posted 7 May 2009 in Volume 12 Issue 6
Case study: Cadbury
Sweet like chocolate
Arthur Shelley describes how Cadbury's development of a succession plan for its knowledge leader enabled the knowledge programme to survive a global demerger and a major organisational restructure.
Cadbury is the largest international manufacturer and marketer of confectionery and has recently demerged from the former Cadbury Schweppes. During the 1990s, Cadbury Schweppes expanded largely through acquisition, which resulted in a vast amount of knowledge spread amongst loosely affiliated businesses. During that decade and early into the 2000s, there were efforts made to bring the former competing businesses closer together to leverage collective strengths and increase collaboration. Building relationships, providing opportunities for interaction and facilitating idea exchange across former business unit boundaries, were seen as key factors in facilitating the desired changes towards a single, global operating entity.
This case study looks at some specific aspects of capability development within one part of the global organisation, the science and technology (S&T) team. The S&T team consists of approximately 750 people spread across 36 countries, but these people were not easily accessible at the beginning of this specific knowledge initiative because of the disparate systems inherited through a long history of acquisition. At that time, many people in similar roles in different parts of the world did not know of each other. The initial strategy was to find the small pockets of excellence (collaborative practices, critical expertise and practices and personal networks) and join these up into larger global networks to increase awareness of each others’ activities.
The focus of the initial activities for the S&T knowledge programme was to ‘get people to share what they know in order to leverage existing intellectual assets’.
The early programme goals were listed as:
Create networks and communities amongst scientific personnel to increase awareness, collaboration and interactions for capability development, and problem solving;
Support these activities with processes and tools for virtual project management, and collation and sharing of technical information and ideas;
Evolve how we interact, behave and build our capability to leverage what we have.
These goals were reinforced through a number of projects and detailed objectives to demonstrate how this was going to be achieved to build credibility and highlight some tangible benefits. The key selling point was that the focus of the programme was on the people aspects, while providing appropriate support processes and tools.
In the early years of the programme, several communities were established. All communities were completely open for any employee to participate in and online community shared spaces were able to be searched by everyone to maximise serendipitous discovery and sharing. Some project teams and communities went on to produce great results, while others faded away without generating much activity or outputs. With only very scant resources (effectively, one full-time equivalent globally), the philosophy taken was ‘go where the energy is’. That is, support mainly those people who were genuinely making an effort to make a difference through sharing and contributions to community events and spaces. The principle was that through helping the most enthusiastic and active people, some early success would be created and these would encourage others to become involved.
A simple intuitive logo was established to engage people and brand the programme. The ‘Connect, Collaborate, Capitalise’ motto highlighted the need to being people together around topics of mutual interest, find ways of working together on these and then making sure the benefits of these efforts are realised and communicated through success stories.
A three-tier structure was put in place to manage the interactions:
Networks – loose associations of people who occasionally interact;
Communities – virtual groups of people who have specific interests in common and who collectively find reasons to share and collaborate;
Projects – specific pieces of work with a beginning and an end managed by community members and collaborated on through the shared online spaces.
As the communities developed, they became self-directing and managed their own agenda and outcomes. Communities found specific projects to collaborate on and the networks provided the infrastructure to source additional expertise when needed. The global knowledge resources monitored progress, provided support for the community leaders and generated enthusiasm among senior stakeholders. They also collected success stories and communicated these back across the organisation to increase awareness and motivate higher participation levels. Some individual virtual collaboration projects produced some spectacular results: one generated millions of dollars in increased sales, while one saved months of research. Another highlighted a looming maintenance issue which, if not acted upon, would have caused significant factory downtime and unplanned maintenance. The programme worked very well and executives were happy with the return on their investments.
As the knowledge programme settled into normal activities, the KM team learned the value of an individual approach. While much more time-consuming to invest time with individual stakeholders and community leaders, it was more productive. Each stakeholder and leader was individually assessed and the messages highlighted the direct benefits to them as an individual and to their team. Support was specifically targeted to meet their individual requirements (a timely success story for their executive meeting, help with facilitating a group, content for an event, one-on-one assistance with new technology and so on). Each community leader was provided with individual coaching from the knowledge management team and soon some started supporting each other. Most targeted personnel buy in to the concept of sharing and collaboration once they have experienced the benefits themselves. One significant win was having collaboration added as one of the global leadership imperatives, for which every manager globally is assessed in the half and full-year performance reviews.
To address the challenges of keeping the programme moving forward, the team need to call upon diverse aspects of management. More than anything else, being able to assist stakeholders with the right method or tool when they needed it impressed how people thought and felt about working collaboratively, and ultimately this determines the success or failure of the programme. Techniques borrowed from change management, programme and project management, cultural development, capability development, process improvement, tools and content development all served uses at different times. Community leaders need to be selected on their interpersonal skills and broad experiences more than their technical expertise, as these will engage participants. They need to have (or obtain) competency in as many of these management disciplines as possible to build their credibility and effectively lead the groups of experts through to tangible outputs.
There were three specific aspects of the Cadbury case which are quite unique:
The programme leader highlighted the need for a succession plan 18 months in advance of his planned departure date to enable smooth handover to the new incumbent;
The successor was selected based on their behavioural characteristics and not their technical or knowledge management skills;
An intensive two-way mentoring programme was established between the current leader and his successor to benefit both parties and the organisation as a whole.
Succession planning and transition management
All people eventually move on, whether internally or by leaving the business entirely. In long-term programmes, such as a knowledge-sharing culture development, it is essential to recognise the need to replace the team members, as well as the leaders, at some stage. While not every piece of knowledge is important, neither is it possible to take several years of experience and effort and hand it over at the last minute when someone moves on. Only a fraction of the critical knowledge is transferred and this is not effective for anyone. The person departing feels devalued because no-one has taken the effort to ‘salvage’ the fruits of their effort. The new incumbent needs to start again and rebuild many of the networks and relationships necessary for credibility and success. The organisation suffers a loss in performance during the handover process.
Cadbury had the foresight to recognise that not only was a change likely, but that the skills and capabilities to maintain the knowledge programme were different from those that it took to design and build the programme and get it started. For these reasons, it was decided to recruit a new person into the team who would be prepared to take over the operation of the programme when the leader was ready to move on (known to be 18-24 months hence). The new person was recruited based on their communication and interpersonal behaviours, not on their knowledge management capabilities. An ongoing development programme was established to teach the knowledge principles and some technology skills.
Behavioural aspect of knowledge leaders
Meanwhile, the new incumbent’s communications skills were used to facilitate community activities, and to publish success stories and a community newsletter.
The new recruit was more familiar with new social software and much more efficient at administrative task management. This enhanced some of the virtual meetings, as they were beginning to mature from emergent conversations (which were more creative than productive) to active groups, who were seeking assistance to pull together projects and resources. Both sets of behaviour were appropriate for the time. Early on, the creative left-brained leadership style worked to build relationships and create a feeling of belonging that engaged people. However, once the identity and trust were present, they were ready for more process-orientated actions provided.
Virtual twoway mentoring
Both parties knew from the beginning that the intent was for the new recruit to be the successor and come to own the facilitation of the communities and the knowledge programme. The team was virtual and spread across a 10-hour time difference, so they needed to create a virtual mentoring relationship that enabled learning from each other. The lead provided guidance on knowledge management, strategy development, behaviours and leadership. The recruit reciprocated by helping the leader on communications and managing the schedule and planning activities. The two-way virtual relationship developed into a combination of irregular face-to-face meetings, weekly scheduled teleconferences, a shared team space on the intranet and weekly summary e-mails (all supplemented by other interactions, as required).
The relationship worked extremely well, with both individuals and the organisation benefitting. When the time came for the leader to move on and the programme to adjust to become more self-sustaining, it went quite smoothly. Around the same time the demerger happened, which created some challenges, including a complete change of the supporting software for the communities and some significant community members leaving through the restructure. However, during this time the leader remained in touch with the successor and they continued to be an interested party and were happy to discuss developments, despite having left the organisation. The strong relationships and the desire to see the programme continue to be successful under the successor was a key motivator for the former leader to continue helping, and no doubt assisted with the transition and the unexpected events.
The Cadbury experiences have shown how critical individual people, their capabilities and behaviours are to a programme’s success. The passion and persistence of a few individuals can make a big difference to the behaviours and participation of others and the value generated. Building personal relationships through one-on-one contacts and through facilitation of group interactions (virtual or face-to-face) has proved more productive in generating positive outcomes, and is a more robust way of building ongoing capabilities. Virtual interactions become increasingly easier as people become more actively involved and as they come to know and trust each other. Changes of structure, process and tools can be challenging issues, but also offer inclusive opportunities which can bring teams together and build relationships.
The main cultural aspects affecting the success of the Cadbury knowledge programme were:
Using a multi-disciplined approach and starting small on ‘workable and worthwhile’ projects to do together;
Tailoring the stakeholder engagement to suit the different audiences;
Write the strategy, but do not expect others to read it: walk them through it personally to engage and build ownership;
Allowing emergent concepts such and two-way mentoring and long-term succession plans to evolve and adapt as they developed; and
Focus on the (many different) people as individuals as well as the groups and persist with inclusiveness and good communications.
The long-term view taken to support the programme and the strength of the relationships between those involved, has ensured that the programme continues to provide significant benefits in a totally new environment and with new players.
The Cadbury programme continues to evolve, with new people involved and new opportunities for influencing other parts of the business. The KM team is focusing on embedding good KM within project management and adjusting from a regional structure to a work in horizontal product categories, spanning the entire global enterprise. There are some opportunities to extend the two-way mentoring in other parts of the business, including succession planning for community leaders, by identifying dual leaders to enable smooth handover of stewardship, share the workload for individuals and provide capability development opportunities for the next generation of leaders.
This case study and others can be found in Arthur Shelley’s Being a Successful Knowledge Leader report. To obtain a copy, contact
Arthur is founder of Intelligent Answers Pty Ltd. For more information visit www.intelligentanswers.com.au